CAESAR SALAD

Back when I owned a bakery-restaurant, one of our most popular salads was a classic Caesar.  You know, that heavenly dressing that was the only way you’d eat anchovies.  Crisp, cool romaine lettuce.  Parmesan cheese.  And our dramatic croutons.

The only bother about it was that I had to be the one to make it.  Mastering the emulsion of eggs (I used pasteurized yolks) and oil was beyond the patience level of most of the kitchen staff, including the son and the daughter who both mastered an invaluable array of skills, just not that one.  After a couple of years, I had an epiphany.  Egg yolks + oil + some seasoning = mayonnaise.  Hmmmmmm.   For a fraction of a second I wondered if the Caesar police might burst in the back door, then just as quickly decided I didn’t care.  Starting with mayonnaise would let me delegate making of the dressing to the daughter, and I could stay on my own side of the kitchen.  I’ve been teaching it that way ever since.

I’d like to say a few words about anchovies.  Whenever I teach this dressing, I ask for a show of hands from those who are terrified of them.  So first we prepare the dressing without them, and taste it.  Then we add the anchovies, purée them in, and taste it again.  To a one, the naysayers are amazed that the dressing couldn’t do without them.

Last weekend I catered meals at a gorgeous lodge out east of the foothills rolling up to the Beartooth Mountains.  The owner had donated the weekend stay for 2 couples as an auction item for one of my favorite charities, and I donated chef services as part of the package.  My sweet friend, who is actually the state director of the charity in question, went along as my most able sous-chef.  Out of all the meals we prepared, Saturday evening’s Caesar salad was still being talked about on Sunday.

CAESAR DRESSING

Makes enough dressing for 4 salads

8 ounces good mayonnaise

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 anchovy fillets

2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worstershire Sauce

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

6 drops Tabasco sauce

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper to taste

  1. Measure all ingredients except salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor.  Measure each ingredient precisely if you must, or feel free to just eyeball them.  Make it enough times, and you’ll easily get to that point.  Purée until completely blended.  Stop motor and scrape down sides of bowl, then purée once more.
  2. Taste the dressing before seasoning with salt and pepper.  Remember those anchovies!  Blend once more after seasoning.
  3. If you don’t plan to use all the dressing at once, it will hold in the refrigerator for about a week.

THE CROUTONS

I described them as dramatic, and compared to the perfectly cut squares you may be used to, they are.  We used our focaccia to make them.  We’d cut slices 1/4″ thick (yes, precisely 1/4″), and 3 1/2 inches long.  It was already so loaded with olive oil that no additional was required.  We’d lay them out on sheet pans lined with parchment, toast them on both sides in the oven, then store them in airtight containers.  The son, the daughter, and the rest of the staff snacked on them like potato chips.  So did I.  If you don’t have a good focaccia, use some Italian bread.  Slice it into 1/4″ thin rounds, then slice the rounds in half.  Brush each side with some olive oil, and toast under the broiler.  To make them REALLY good, rub each side with some cut garlic right after they come out of the oven.

THE SALAD

One head of romaine will make enough salad for 2 to 4 people, depending upon how large the salads are.  This is one of my favorite warm summer evening dinners – just a great big plate of it in all its own glory, or perhaps with some crumbles of bacon or matchsticks of good salami or sopressata.

  1. Leave the entire head of romaine intact.  To wash it, hold it vertically under cold running water.  Turn it upside down and shake the water out of it.  Set it in a dish drainer or colander upside down to drain while you prepare the croutons.
  2. With the head still intact, move to a cutting board.  Trim off the rounded ends of the lettuce so that the top of the head is squared off.  Keep the ends for another salad, or feed them to bunnies or chickens or ducks.
  3. Beginning at the stem end, make 3 vertical cuts through all leaves of the lettuce, dividing it into approximately equal thirds.  Then cut the lettuce into 1″ wide ribbons.  Stop when you get near the core.
  4. Transfer the lettuce to a large salad bowl.  Pour the dressing over, then toss to distribute well.  I use about three tablespoons per salad.
  5. Arrange salad on plates.  I like to use a peeler to shave a few large curls of Parmesan over the salad, but use a grater if you prefer.  Feel free to add a few whole anchovies to the salads.  Place 2 big, beautiful croutons on the side of each plate.  Serve immediately.
  6. If you’re not going to use the entire head of romaine for the number of salads you need, go ahead and cut it all into ribbons and hold in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.  That way, you can have a Caesar salad whenever your heart so desires.

Caesar Salad With Sopressata

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About thesolitarycook

I'm a chef, a cook, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a bike-rider, a dog- and cat-woman
This entry was posted in Condiments, Entrées, RECIPES, Salads and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to CAESAR SALAD

  1. Karen Rush says:

    Now that is GENIUS. I adore Caesar salad. My first was eaten in a Washington DC restaurant in 1969 after a year of the war in Saigon. It got that I would go into restaurants and ask only for that salad made at the table. I love the taste of anchovies but actually wasn’t really comfortable with shreds of them actually on my tongue. It’s a texture thing! I won’t eat whole ones draped over stuffed boiled eggs. I happily, joyfully use them when frying them down for sauces and bases in braising etc and stuffing in legs of lamb with garlic and rosemary. Your recipe incorporates the little pets, the Worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it adding more depth and Dijon mustard is perfect in so many things. Bravo! Thank you for sharing. Jeffie will love this as well.

    • It says something about our generation that we remember so many things in relation to the war in Viet Nam. I LOVE the idea of incorporating anchovies (“the little pets!) into stuffings! I served a stuffed beef sirloin roast last weekend in which they would have added a wonderful layer of flavor. Thank you – I’m going to think about how many more ways I can use them.

  2. Karen Rush says:

    What an utterly stupid thing to agree to go and work in Saigon arriving at the tail end of the Tet Offensive at 22 years of age. I was previously tucked away at the NASA Deep Space Station at Tidbinbilla 30 minutes out of Canberra in the mountains tracking Surveyor craft etc with a bunch of married men! I digress! Anyway Saigon was where I met my first love, discovered bouillabaisse at a small French restaurant, Ramunchos, in the heart if the city and where I found the healing qualities of pho.

    • Now that’s a story I’d like to hear more about.

      • Karen Rush says:

        After my year in Vietnam was complete, I declined to extend my contract. I traveled to Washington DC to study international law at the University of Maryland College Park campus (to work out for myself the morality of our being in Vietnam) while working my day job at the World Bank next door to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. One day I emerged at lunch time from the World Bank building only to be confronted with a the last moratorium march led by McGovern slowly, noisily strolling past. With a rush of blood to the head, I merged in and walked with them for half an hour or so. Three days later, I had resigned, sold my car and flown back to Australia. I joined the Australian moratorium movement headed by Jim Cairns (our later Deputy Prime Minister) and the rest is history. During the time I was there in Washington, I remember driving with 3 other girls to Woodstock. Two girls stayed and two of us left within hours. The mud, rain, drug-addled hippies, food shortages and few toilets … it was all too much for me. Jeffie can’t believed I didn’t stay! I have the music from Woodstock on CD now and, of course, love it. Irish Catholic, nun-raised, middle-class me just couldn’t take the mayhem. In 1977-1982 I was back in Washington working at the IMF, married my husband who was Defence Counsellor at the Australian Embassy and Jeffie was born there – named after Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, Jeffie, so named by Thomas when they all lived together at “Monticello”. Coincidentally my first-love was living and working in Washington at that later time… a bit tricky especially when we discovered he and Trevor had known each other previously in Washington in the years 1966-68 when Trevor was posted to Washington and before Mike and I had met in Vietnam.

      • Oh my. That’s a lot of history condensed into a very small space. Thank you. What a beautiful story! I need to think about it a bit.

  3. You are so right about the mayo, brilliant! Caesar is one of my all time favorite salads. I would raise my hand fearing anchovies. I will give them a try in this dressing. I know I have probably been enjoying them all along in my caesar salad. Lovely salad and your croutons are perfect, nice and big just the way they should be.

  4. Pat says:

    Love this! I’ve been making a mayo version for years and also fearing the Caesar police. I use anchovy paste in the dressing along with the oil from the jar or tin of the anchovies. The anchovies themselves get piled on the salad!

  5. lapadia says:

    Yay! Love the dressing, love the recipe! 🙂

  6. Emily says:

    You owned a bakery/restaurant??? Cyn, you have lived. How neat! I love a good Caesar and am going to make yours ASAP. I love your term, “dramatic croutons.” Marvelously, perfectly descriptive.
    Your photos lately are even prettier than usual. The pics of the bison are dear, and the sunsets are gorgeous. Thank you!

    • You always make me laugh, Em. My workhorse camera finally gave out and I got a new one a couple of weeks ago. I’m having a great time learning to use it. Thank you for being such an eternally bright spot in a day.

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